Tiny tech to trans­form hear­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL -

can­not be de­tected with­out some­one peer­ing closely into your mouth.

If, for what­ever rea­son, you need to re­place bad teeth, im­plants are an op­tion (though not a cheap one). They are screwed into the jaw­bone, then capped with a crown that matches your own tooth enamel. Den­tures are cheaper but can of­ten slip out of po­si­tion, which is one rea­son why im­plants are gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity.

No one rel­ishes the thought of a trip to the den­tist but it is some­thing we all learn to en­dure. For some peo­ple though, fear of the den­tist turns into a full-blown pho­bia and they make an ap­point­ment only when se­vere prob­lems arise. The lat­est adult den­tal health sur­vey in­di­cates 36 per cent of adults have mod­er­ate den­tal anx­i­ety and 12 per cent have se­vere anx­i­ety about vis­it­ing a den­tist.

Dr Dou­glas Miller has a den­tal prac­tice in Finch­ley, north Lon­don and spe­cialises in treat­ing those for whom a visit to the chair is an or­deal.

“You have to give them time and be a good lis­tener,” he says. “Give them back an el­e­ment of con­trol, be­cause very of­ten they have felt out of con­trol at another den­tal prac­tice. They’ve of­ten had trust is­sues with their last den­tist or even par­ents who might have held them down, so what you need to do is em­power them and make them un­der­stand you are work­ing as part of a team with them. You are there to help, to try to en­sure they have a com­fort­able jour­ney in get­ting the work done that is nec­es­sary.”

Dr Miller will of­ten meet the pa­tient first for a con­sul­ta­tion. If he can, he will pro­ceed with an ex­am­i­na­tion but he is happy just to get to know the pa­tient and gain trust.

“Ul­ti­mately, you are not treat­ing teeth, you are treat­ing the per­son and you are try­ing to un­der­stand what they are anx­ious about. Some­times you have to give them seda­tives to calm them down or give them cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy to al­low them to un­der­stand the is­sues that they have.”

As you age, your risk of get­ting mouth can­cer in­creases, with most mouth can­cers oc­cur­ring in adults over 50. It is the sixth most com­mon can­cer in the world and more fre­quently found in men than in women, as men tend to drink more al­co­hol and drink­ing to ex­cess in­creases the risk sub­stan­tially. They also use more to­bacco, still the main cause of mouth can­cer.

It is easy to miss the early signs of the dis­ease. Com­mon symp­toms in­clude a sore that does not heal within three weeks, a lump any­where in the mouth, white or red patches on the gums or tongue and dif­fi­culty in swal­low­ing. Den­tists are now more aware of th­ese and other symp­toms to watch for, and early di­ag­no­sis is pos­si­ble — another rea­son to make sure you do not miss your six-monthly check-ups.

IT IS a sur­pris­ing fact that, in the UK, 40 per cent of peo­ple over the age 50 have some kind of hear­ing loss — 70 per cent of over 70-year-olds — but it is even more sur­pris­ing that many peo­ple do noth­ing about it. Al­most seven mil­lion peo­ple could ben­e­fit from hear­ing aids and on av­er­age those who do seek help wait for as long as 10 years be­fore turn­ing to an au­di­ol­o­gist to have a hear­ing test.

Th­ese sta­tis­tics are not guess­work; they are from the na­tional char­ity Ac­tion on Hear­ing Loss and they clearly demon­strate the chal­lenges fac­ing au­di­ol­o­gists such as Nathan Gluck.

Gluck has been cam­paign­ing for 20 years to im­prove the hear­ing health of peo­ple liv­ing in north and north west Lon­don, Mid­dle­sex and Hert­ford­shire.

Speak­ing at his Gold­ers Green head of­fice, he says one of the most com­mon rea­sons peo­ple give him for not seek­ing help is the stigma of wear­ing hear­ing aids: odd for a pop­u­la­tion that hap­pily sub­mits to reg­u­lar eye­sight tests and will wear spec­ta­cles with­out any qualms.

“The prob­lem is that hear­ing aids used to be big bulky con­trap­tions, dif­fi­cult to use and be­fore dig­i­tal, tech­nol­ogy lent a help­ing hand, their au­dio per­for­mance was pretty abysmal,” says Gluck.

“Let’s face it,” he says, “most peo­ple will have the mem­ory of an el­derly rel­a­tive sit­ting in the cor­ner at a fam­ily gather­ing try­ing to stop their bulky hear­ing aid from whistling so they can take part in the con­ver­sa­tion.”

But th­ese days hear­ing in­stru­ments can be so small they are vir­tu­ally un­de­tectable and yet have a tech­ni­cal per­for­mance light years ahead.

“We have an amaz­ing range of pow­er­ful in­stru­ments which are, to all in­tents and pur­poses in­vis­i­ble,” says Gluck. “Some are tiny light­weight units which sit be­hind the ear and oth­ers are so small they dis­ap­pear right in­side the ear canal.”

The Moxi Now, the lat­est hear­ing aid man­u­fac­tured by Uni­tron, is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple and is shown here next to a blue­berry, for size com­par­i­son. Like most of th­ese minia­ture yet pow­er­ful in­stru­ments, it is not cur­rently avail­able on the NHS.

“It’s just 20.2mm tall and 6.5mm wide, yet de­spite its size it of­fers amaz­ing com­fort, beau­ti­ful aes­thet­ics and in­tu­itive func­tion­al­ity, mak­ing it easy to use too,” says Gluck. “This tiny in­stru­ment is so small it is al­most in­vis­i­ble be­hind the ear, so no­body will notice it.”

He adds: “The Moxi Now is the world’s small­est wire­less re­ceiver-in­canal hear­ing aid and is so com­fort­able and light pa­tients can eas­ily wear it all day.”

Moxi Now’s tech­nol­ogy au­to­mat­i­cally adapts to dif­fer­ent lis­ten­ing en­vi­ron­ments, to en­sure lis­ten­ing al­ways sounds nat­u­ral.

Of course, there are still chal­lenges ahead: be­fore they have a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence how dis­creet such hear­ing aids are, peo­ple with hear­ing loss have to recog­nise their symp­toms. Ini­tial screen­ing is easy. The first ques­tion is: do you mis­hear what peo­ple say be­cause, in your opin­ion, they mum­ble rather than speak­ing clearly? Do you have prob­lems hear­ing what is said in noisy en­vi­ron­ments, such as a restau­rant or café, or does your part­ner com­plain you have the TV or ra­dio on too loudly?

Those who say yes to any of th­ese ques­tions should have a proper hear­ing test — it is likely they have hear­ing loss. In fact, if you have any doubt about your hear­ing, in the in­ter­est of your fu­ture health you should seek a hear­ing test now.

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